Brothers and Sisters: The Complete First Season

You can call something a “reflective and sophisticated drama,” as the Brothers and Sisters first season DVD box proudly proclaims, but when it comes right down to it, a soap is a soap. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily. There is a place for beautiful people coping with problems related to money, sex, infidelity, career choices, drugs, and family. And if someone does that while making a show a little witty and mature, so much the better. As should be obvious from the title, Brothers and Sisters is essentially a show about family. The family at front and center, the Walkers of San Marino, California, just happen to be much richer and better looking than your family. The main family characters are all grown and, with one exception, have moved out of the twenty-something demographic seen on Melrose Place and The OC. The five titular Walker siblings include sisters Kitty (Calista Flockhart), who is a conservative political commentator and later the communications director for her U.S. Senator fiancé (recurring guest Rob Lowe), and Sarah (Rachel Griffiths), who runs the family business, thus putting a strain on her marriage. The brothers include Tommy (Balthazar Getty), who thought he was heir apparent for the job that went to Sarah and who can’t get his wife pregnant, Kevin (Matthew Rhys), a gay attorney, and Justin (Dave Annable), an Afghanistan war vet and, naturally, a drug addict.

The brood is overseen by Nora (Sally Field) and William (Tom Skerritt.) William dies in the first episode, setting in motion many significant plot points including the revelation that he was carrying on a long term affair with Holly (Patricia Wetting) and the two have a daughter together, Rebecca (Emily VanCamp.) Fortunately for everyone, Rebecca is very attractive and thus fits very well into the family. Also along for the ride are Nora’s brother, Saul (Ron Rifkin), who helps run the family produce business.

Executive producer/director Ken Olin and executive producer/creator Jon Robin Baitz are doing their best to make this show more than just pretty people with money and relationship problems. They often succeed due to witty writing and an excellent cast. But that doesn’t always cover over the lose or odd plot holes such as Nora dating tons of men right after the sudden death of her beloved husband, the build-up of relationship options for Calista Flockhart that quickly disappear, and the need to have each character mention their key personality trait in every conversation. As the gay character, Matthew Ryhs’ Kevin is forced not only to refer to his gayness in some way repeatedly, but also have other characters mention it when he doesn’t. So many conversations sound like this: Character A says “I like this cheese.” Kevin replies, “as a gay man, I know cheese, and this is sumptuous cheese and isn’t that male waiter hot?” Dave Annable’s Justin also has to refer to his time in Afghanistan or his drug problem (or both) every time he is on screen. Try setting up a drinking game on either of these guys and you’d be drunk by the first commercial break.

Those problems aside, there is enough to like about good actors reciting interesting and funny lines to overlook a multitude of sins. Sally Field won the Emmy for her portrayal of Nora and while it is obvious why (Nora cries in the kitchen, Nora has food fight with Holly, Nora smokes pot with Margot Kidder), there is still a feeling that nothing special is going on here. It’s just workmanlike drama being dished out by pros who have pulled a little soap opera from here and a little family drama from there and given us something not too bad. The season is presented on six chocked-full discs. Except for the commentaries, all of the bonus features are on Disc 6. I prefer this type of set-up so I don’t have to hunt through the discs to find the bonus stuff. Episode summaries are provided in an easy to lose insert (why aren’t more shows following The Office and printing that stuff right on the box?) The show is rated TV-14, but you don’t have to worry about kids seeing or hearing something inappropriate, anyone under 14 is going to be bored silly by the show itself.

Although there are 24 episodes presented, there are only four commentaries. When you consider the size of the cast and writing/producing staff it really is a pretty paltry output. Sally Field, Calista Flockhart, and Rachel Griffiths are nowhere to be found and Ken Olin is only around for one. The commentaries that do exist (provided by Jon Robin Baitz, Balthazar Getty, Patricia Wettig, Matthew Rhys and several writers) are pretty standard. They do cover some interesting insights about what was and wasn’t done in certain episodes and why. Of course, it’s very hit and miss, so you don’t get much of a feel for the flow of the entire season and what was being attempted.

Rather than including random deleted scenes, the set contains an entire deleted episode, “State of the Parties.” It was intended to be the second episode of the season. The episode was cut because evidently there was a desire (probably by the network, although that isn’t stated) to get to the juicy stuff a little faster. This is actually a nice extra for someone interested in the show as it is fully formed, rather than just a snippet, and gives more background to the characters. Try watching it in order rather than leaving it until the end.

There are three run of the mill featurettes included. The basic “making-of” infomercial is called “The Walker Family Tree.” At nearly 30 minutes, it covers all the stuff you’d expect to see in this type of puff piece. Most of the actors say things like “I’m so glad to be working with so and so, she/he is so amazing.” The second focuses on the three actors playing the Walker brothers (Getty, Rhys, and Annable) who run around the set showing us things like wardrobe and craft services. They also demonstrate a very convincing crotch-kick joke that probably kills when you don’t expect it. Hopefully they will work it into the show. The last and least featurette is called “The Family Business” and covers the Olin family and their roles on the show. In addition to Ken Olin and Patricia Wettig, their son is a writer and their daughter had a small guest role. It’s not very interesting unless you notice how much Ken looks like Francis Ford Coppola and you wonder if he is trying to turn his family into Coppola West.

The only other extra is a blooper reel and some previews. Overall, it is a decent, though not spectacular companion to the show. Reportedly a pilot episode was shot with Betty Buckley playing the mother. The fact that Buckley (and some other cast members and producers) was replaced amid rumors of network retooling is never mentioned by anyone. Why not discuss it as a way to give people more insight onto how a show becomes the show we finally see? Why not give us a little spice? Instead, we get something good that helps pass the time until something better comes along.